Monday, February 13, 2012

This and That

So, I’m just going to pick up where I left off last week, because I want to try to get down every little thought I have about the things I see and experience while here…
            First, my week…Thursday, as I said before, I went with the district welfare officer to disperse funds for the LEAP program to some of the poorest people in the district. Some of the communities we went to looked just like something straight from a Save The Children commercial. Mostly mud-walled, one-room huts with thatched or corrugated tin roofs, with stray dogs and chickens running everywhere, and trash covering the ground everywhere. But the children there seemed to be happy for the most part (they waved and smiled at me and always asked, “How are you?”…a few of them also yelled at me from far away, “Hey you, hey English!”), so I kind of try to take as much of an objective view as possible, and realize that my U.S., fortunate eyes might make things out to be a little more terrible than they are. But don’t get me wrong, the poverty is real, and the struggle to get all of the children to school instead of participating in fishing or peddling small goods to help support their families is very common. Part the study I’m doing for my internship also concerns children from places like this whose studies at school suffer because they have to walk sometimes literally miles to get to class because they have no other alternative.
            Friday, I went with Leo to the Catholic school to begin interviewing JHS (Junior High School) students from a list that the headmaster has compiled for me with the students who travel great distances and how it affects their studies. Leo, as usual thus far, is a great mentor and is a huge help in showing me the things I should be looking for and asking.
            The highlight of my Friday evening was having my first cold Ghanaian lager beer (it’s called Star beer), courtesy of Herman, (the Dutch man whose wife is the founder of the organization here) while we watched the Ghanaian football (soccer) team make a mess of the competition for 3rd and 4th place in the Africa Cup of Nations and end up playing and losing horribly to Mali. They were the pick to win the cup but everything went downhill fast after their defeat by Zambia. But God bless Herman for offering the beer! Perfect for the hot nights here. He is a couple of years retired and lives on pension now, and he is a great carpenter (it was his profession all his life) who has helped oversee and participate in many of the building projects here at the orphanage.
            Saturday Leo and I went into town (Takoradi) and visited his friend who is a Ghanaian policemen, used his broadband internet (a blessing here in Ghana) and ended up watching part of the Manchester United vs. Liverpool English football game (I’m really getting an education in the game here…).
            Sunday was a bit of a lazy day here and I went again with Leo into town so he could ship a package to his brother. We ended up sharing a meal together that consisted of cooked plantains (which are a cousin of the banana and when prepared a certain way have kind of the same sweet taste, but in the way we ate them they had the consistency and taste of a potato.) and a stew made from the leaves of something or other which was slightly spicy and very good (I’ll have to ask him to tell me the name of it again). We broke off pieces of the whole plantains and used them to scoop up the stew with our fingers. I also ordered a fried fish for myself. Notice I didn’t say filet of fish, but a whole, fried fish--bones, skin, eyes, and all…about the size of a small trout. But it was all very good and hit the spot. I went on Leo’s suggestion for the plantains and stew…I trust his gastrointestinal instincts which are usually very good, and he hasn’t led me astray yet. Before we began eating, however, we used a pitcher of water and a bowl to wash our hands with (this is how it’s done in Ghana), wetting our hands by pouring water over them into the bowl, washing with hand soap, and then rinsing our hands, again into the bowl. I also enjoyed another Star lager (this may be the start of a beautiful friendship for me and Star).
            Today I again went to the office of the district social welfare officer, where I sat in and listened with him and his own intern for a couple of hours to a teenage pregnancy case where the young man’s paternity was in dispute. They spoke mostly in their regional dialect and so the intern (a young Ghanaian woman who is also a social worker-in-training and is doing her national service (sort of an internship that is mandatory for all civil servants and social services workers in Ghana after they graduate from university)) translated for me. It was very interesting to see the way it was handled.
            So, now I’m just going to mention a few, random thoughts I’ve had while here.
            First, I am slowly getting to know the children.
There is Nathaniel, thirteen years old, (one of my favorites, if I may be honest) who is mild-mannered but funny and always has conversations with me about things in the U.S. He always asks me to come and help feed the goats that are kept here on the premises, and which he has been but in charge of feeding at the moment. He is very good with the younger kids and with the animals. He is also the one who helped me break the ice with the younger boys by asking me to show him how to stand at attention and salute like they do in the U.S. Army. He and some of the other boys can now stand at attention, parade rest, and present and order arms (saluting and dropping the salute) perfectly.
There is Cecilia, who is I think 6 or 7, and who is a very tiny but constantly smiling little girl. She sometimes gets upset because she wants to participate in some of the things the older kids do but she can’t because she is still very small. I always say “Hi, Cecilia.” to her anytime I see her, which brings a huge grin from her.
There is Isaac, also about 13, who is very funny, outspoken, and who also asks me many questions about the U.S. and the army.
Then there’s Dennis, who’s about 6. He is kind of quiet and speaks very softly but always stays very close to me when I’m around…for instance when I’ve watched the football games with the kids he always wants to sit right next to me. He always gets a big smile anytime he makes eye contact with me. I told him that he looks like a very young Denzel Washington (he does!), but he just smiled and nodded at me as if I were full of it. I said that meant he was a good-looking little dude…again, just a smile and nod.
There’s my namesake Joseph who is about 11 or 12 and who is a practical joker. Every time I am around him he makes everyone laugh. He cut me my very first fresh coconut, straight from the tree, and chopped the top off so I could drink the milk from inside it (the jury’s still out on how I feel about it, btw…it’s kind of sweet but has a strange aftertaste), but when he handed it to me, he said something in his native dialect which made the other children all start laughing. When I said, smiling, “What did you just say? Why are you laughing buddy??”, he just started laughing harder. So I made him drink some before I did, which he did. I always keep my eye on him when I’m around him, sure he’s going to pull something…all in good fun, of course.
Finally, there’s Robert, who is 17 and very close to leaving the orphanage. He is studying to be a math teacher at the local education college here in Takoradi and he is very bright. He and I have had a few conversations comparing universities here and in the U.S. I tell him how much I hate math and prefer natural science, English, or history and he says he is the exact opposite, except he also enjoys science.
There are a few other children whose names I know, but there are many of them and I am still learning.
More random thoughts…I’ve noticed that Ghana is a highly spiritualized country. I’ve seen every Christian denomination you can think of represented here, as well as a few mosques (Christianity is more widespread here in the south, while Islam is more prevalent in the north of the country). Also, every taxi and small vendor shop I see has some sort of religious slogan printed on it, such as “In His name”, “Nothing without Him”, or things like “Only Believe House of Fashion”. Very interesting…
Also, I have gotten to know a couple of the young ladies living in the guest building next to mine who are studying to be teachers. They spend three years becoming a teacher, with the last year being a “practical year”, spent shadowing a teacher in the classroom…akin to our student teaching I suppose. I estimate the one I talk to the most to be about 21 by this, as she is in her last year and is done with her field work in June. We have conversations about our respective educations and just this or that. They make for nice company when there is not much else going on…and a couple of them are not exactly hard on the eyes, either (but, I digress). A funny thing, too, is that I can hear some of them singing in the shower sometimes because the window to their shower room in their building is only a few feet from the window to my room, separated by a storage area between our buildings. Always entertaining to listen to. I’m sure they can hear the music playing from my laptop, too, when I sit in my room and do my work.
Lastly, the house mothers, which there are 4 or 5 five of, never let me lift a finger around here. Anytime they see me doing something, they order one of the children to do it for me (all part of living in a rule-based orphanage I suppose, but it seems to be good for the kids, and they seem to want to be the one that gets picked to help me anyway) and I always get kind of embarrassed because I’m not used to being waited on. Case in point, for the last few days, the power has been going on and off here, sometimes for hours at a time. This is a common occurrence, I’m told. Well, when the power is off, obviously, the water doesn’t work in my building, so for the last few days, I’ve had to get buckets of water to bathe with (the decent-sized, white buckets that you would buy building supplies in). A “bath in a bucket”. Though I always try to sneak and carry the buckets myself from the main building to mine, I always get caught and one of the kids does it for me. Though I have only had to do this less than a handful of times in my life (though it is an everyday thing for many Ghanaians), I consider doing it to be adventurous. I accomplish it by first dunking my head in the bucket, washing my hair, splashing water on the rest of me, washing with body wash, and then dumping the bucket over me. Refreshing!
And, on that note, I conclude…stay tuned!

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